Alouettes' Danny Maciocia shares advice with students at his former high school

Chase your dreams and don’t let anyone attempt to dissuade you, Grey Cup-winning GM told Secondary IV and V students at Laurier Macdonald.

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As a high school student at Laurier Macdonald in 1984, Danny Maciocia wasn’t particularly scholarly, doing the bare minimum to graduate.

And as a tight end on that season’s football team, stretching to reach 5-foot-8 and weighing no more than 175 pounds, he might have been worse. Maciocia wore number 74, in honour of Alouettes great Peter Dalla Riva, his boyhood idol who played the same position, and remembers his high school team didn’t win a game that year.

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Maciocia, now the general manager of the defending Grey Cup champion Als, returned to his St. Léonard alma mater Wednesday morning, the CFL trophy riding shotgun, and fielded questions from approximately 280 Secondary IV and V students in the school’s auditorium.

His message was succinct and simple — chase your dreams and don’t let anyone attempt to dissuade you.

“Be where your feet are at,” said Maciocia, 56. “Sometimes you have a tendency to look into the future but get lost with where you’re at. Be committed and have some consistency to it, because there’s no start without commitment. And there’s no end without consistency. You can’t be consistent for a week or two.

“Don’t chase money,” he added. “If you’re good at something, money will find you. Enjoy the journey we call life. We only have the opportunity to do it once. Enjoy these years because you don’t have to be a grown-up now with responsibilities. You’re only 15, 16 once in your life. Enjoy these great years.”

Even as a teenager, Maciocia believed his future was in the game, intrigued by the schemes, interactions and concepts. At home each night after completing — or sometimes instead of — his school work, he drew up plays for the coach, none of which were ever used. But the seed was planted in his mind.

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After a brief stint working for, and getting fired by, his mother in the family’s insurance business, Maciocia launched his coaching career in 1994 with the junior St-Léonard Cougars. He began as the offensive co-ordinator before becoming head coach the following season.

He joined the Als as a quality-control coach — a volunteer position, often spent breaking down film — in 1996. His wife, Sandra, gave him two years to secure full-time employment and two years later he was hired as Montreal’s running-backs coach, earning $27,000 annually.

“It probably was the equivalent of a million bucks,” Maciocia said. “It didn’t matter how much was on that cheque. I was getting something that gave me a sense of gratification. The two years of sacrifice were worth it.

“I promised myself, once I got in I wouldn’t get out. For the most part, it worked out.”

Maciocia has worn many hats in his career, both at the CFL and university levels. A former head coach and GM with Edmonton, he won Grey Cups in 2003 and ’05. After being fired in 2010, he returned to Montreal and was named the head coach at Université de Montréal in 2011, beginning a nine-year run. He won the Vanier Cup with the Carabins in 2014 and was named Als GM in January 2020.

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The CFL cancelled that season due to COVID before Maciocia and the organization endured two years plagued by drama at the ownership level along with a coaching change in 2022; Maciocia firing Khari Jones and becoming Montreal’s interim head coach. While Pierre Karl Péladeau’s purchase of the team 13 months ago brought stability, the Als still had a losing record in mid-September before going on an incredible eight-game winning streak, capped by their come-from-behind Cup victory against favoured Winnipeg.

Without pomp and circumstance, Maciocia has basked in the glory since, the organization fêted at the Bell Centre and National Assembly.

“It’s easier to win the Grey Cup than to deal with it,” he quipped. “This year was more about adversity, perseverance, family and the challenges we had to endure. That’s what I’m cherishing, because the trophy has to be returned at some point. But what we experienced is going to be engraved in our memories for the rest of our days. No one can take that away.”

Despite his perceived difficulties at school, Maciocia is the father of three successful girls — Bianca, 24, graduated from Concordia in human relations; Juliana, 20, is studying law at the University of Ottawa, while Alessia is a Secondary IV student. He said they inherited their pursuit of education from their mother.

“If I’m the smartest guy in the room, change the room,” Maciocia quipped. “If I could do this, there’s no reason you can’t achieve this or better. I tell my kids, ‘you’re better off paying what it costs to have success than being stuck with the bill for regret.’ ”

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